Your spine is also known as your backbone, but it includes more than bones. The disks, muscles, tendons, and tissues along your spinal column are also part of your spine. Your spine is part of your central nervous system. Your body relies on your spine for structure, and your spine enables you to move.
A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury to your spinal column’s nerves, muscles, disks, or bones. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that each year, between one-quarter and half a million people worldwide get SCIs.
Spinal cord injuries are very common after an accident. We specialize in these injuries and cases. Our attorneys understand the medicine and the law and have helped our clients get the full settlement they deserve after an accident involving a spinal cord injury.
What are the common symptoms of a spinal cord injury?
SCI symptoms vary based on the injury’s location and its severity. SCIs may affect your back, head, neck, limbs, or organs. Common symptoms include:
- Balance issues
- Issues with bowel or bladder control
- Fertility issues
- Lack of coordination
- Mass on your spine or head
- Partial loss of control of body parts
- Sexual dysfunction
- Tingling in extremities
- Total loss of control of body parts
What are spinal cord injury categories?
There are two categories of SCIs. Your long-term prognosis varies based on whether your SCI is complete or incomplete. Whether you have a complete or incomplete SCI is determined by the part of your body below the point of injury.
You have an incomplete spinal cord injury if you can feel things and have partial or total control of limbs and organs below your SCI. People with incomplete SCIs usually have shorter recovery periods and a better long-term prognosis. In some cases, it’s possible to make a full recovery.
If you can’t feel anything below your SCI location, you have a complete SCI. Complete SCIs also cause paralysis. Although it’s possible to recover from a complete SCI, the recovery periods are longer. Some complete SCIs are permanent.
What are spinal cord injury levels and types?
Your spine has 33 vertebrae, and the level and type of SCI you experience depends on the part of the spine where the injury occurs. All SCIs can affect your quality of life. In some cases, counseling and support groups can help SCI victims with the impact of their injuries. Others may need long-term personal care to complete routine tasks.
The bottom five vertebrae in your spine are your sacral vertebrae. Since your sacrum and coccyx are the lowest points on your spine, injuries to this part of your spine impact the lower portion of your body. Sacral SCIs can affect your legs and your hips, but you may be able to recover fully with treatment.
Your lumbar vertebrae are the second-lowest part of your spine. Like a sacral SCI, a lumbar SCI will impact your hips and legs. Some people with lumbar SCIs may recover, while others may need assistive devices like braces or a wheelchair.
There are 12 vertebrae in the thoracic section of your spine. SCIs in the thoracic area can vary in nature and severity based on whether they affect the upper or lower thoracic vertebrae. Injuries to any of your thoracic vertebrae can cause trunk and leg paralysis. Injuries to the lower seven vertebrae also affect abdominal and lower back muscles. Injuries to the upper five vertebrae impact your abdomen, chest, and middle back muscles.
When someone suffers a spinal cord injury in the upper part of the spine, their injuries are usually more severe than SCIs in the lowest part of the spine. The extent of the injury’s severity depends on which of the seven cervical vertebrae is affected by your SCI. An injury to the C7 vertebra affects the bottom cervical vertebrae and can cause hand, leg, and trunk paralysis, although the hand paralysis may be partial.
Those with injuries to their C5 or C6 vertebrae will have the same issues as those with C7 SCIs but can also have wrist paralysis. People with C5 or C6 SCIs may also have breathing issues.
The most severe injuries are injuries to the C1, C2, C3, or C4 vertebrae. People with these SCIs may need an assistive device to breathe. In addition to the symptoms experienced by those with C5 and C6 SCIs, they may also have arm paralysis and difficulty speaking.
Why are SCIs so serious?
Spinal cord damage can impact your ability to function fully. In some cases, SCIs are permanent. Surgery may effectively correct damage in other cases, but surgery isn’t without risks. Surgical complications caused more than 4% of SCIs between 2005 and 2011. In addition to causing SCIs, there’s also a possibility spinal surgery can increase the severity of an SCI. Since severe SCIs can interfere with the person’s ability to breathe, people with SCIs also have a higher risk of premature death.
What types of accidents can result in an SCI?
Accidents are the leading cause of SCIs and can happen in many ways. The most common of these include:
- Car accidents: Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 31.5% of SCIs between 2005 and 2011, while motorcycle accidents accounted for another 6.8% of SCIs during that period.
- Diving accidents: Diving is a popular recreational activity but isn’t without risks. Divers may hit their heads if they miscalculate the depth of the water, resulting in an SCI.
- Pedestrian accidents: A pedestrian is more likely to suffer a catastrophic injury after an accident because they’re exposed to direct impact from motor vehicles.
- Slip-and-fall accidents: Falls caused more than 25% of SCIs between 2005 and 2011. People have a higher risk of suffering a fall as they age, adding to the number of SCIs. People can also fall on slippery surfaces, unsecured items like rugs, or trip on uneven stairs or objects on the ground.
Are there other causes of SCIs?
Although accidents are the most common causes of SCIs, there are several other ways people can get an SCI. These causes include:
- Gunshots: Gunshots caused over 10% of the SCIs recorded between 2005 and 2011.
- Medical malpractice: When a medical professional or facility fails to provide the reasonably expected standard of care, patients may become victims of medical malpractice. Substandard care can result in SCIs and other injuries.
- Sports injuries: Participating in sports can cause various injuries. Players can collide when playing football or hockey, resulting in SCIs. Bicyclists can also sustain SCIs if they’re thrown from their bikes or fall when riding.
- Violent assaults: Any physical impact on your spine can cause an SCI. Beating and stabbing victims can suffer from an SCI after an assault.
How can you cope with the financial repercussions of an SCI?
Coping with an SCI can be overwhelming. You may have to learn how to use assistive devices to move around. You may also need help if you cannot stand to reach the items you need. In addition to needing special equipment, such as wheelchairs, you may need to move or renovate your home. You may also need to hire people to provide personal care or child care.
Many SCI victims struggle to cover personal care expenses and the costs of ongoing medical care. Fortunately, SCI victims can file a personal injury suit and seek compensation. Suppose you were in a car accident, resulting in your SCI. You could pursue legal action for economic and non-economic damages if another driver were at fault.
Economic damages include:
- Child care costs
- Future lost wages
- Future medical bills
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Personal care costs
- Renovation or relocation costs
- Replacement costs
- Transportation costs
Non-economic damages include:
- Emotional injury
- Pain and suffering
- Social impact
You may even have a case for punitive damages if you can establish that the driver’s reckless or malicious conduct caused the accident. Although it’s possible for you to pursue a legal claim yourself, hiring a personal injury lawyer ensures you have expert legal guidance every step of the way. Personal injury attorneys have years of training and experience. They are familiar with laws surrounding personal injury cases and know how to build the most effective spinal cord injury case.